Early this semester, Michael Clark, a political scientist at Northern Illinois University, struggled to write a letter of recommendation for senior Nora Lindvall of Geneva—not because Clark didn’t know what to say but because he didn’t know where to stop.
So numerous are Lindvall’s accomplishments.
“Nora is, without a doubt, the most talented and best all-around student I have come across,” says Clark, who taught at Georgetown and George Washington universities before coming to NIU. “I have never met, nor am I likely to meet, a student with Nora’s work ethic, sense of purpose and focus.”
Over the course of her undergraduate career, Lindvall has earned 13 scholarships. She won two grants to conduct research overseas. She speaks five foreign languages. She sits on no less than nine different university-related committees.
This past summer, she traveled to Brussels, Belgium, for a two-month internship with Czech politician Libor Roucek, vice president of the European Parliament, having been selected over numerous applicants. And, in May, Lindvall will earn bachelor’s degrees in English and political science, graduating with honors from both NIU departments.
How does she do it all?
“Little sleep and lots of coffee,” Lindvall says. “It’s true.”
For her many achievements, both in and out of the classroom, the Geneva native has been named the NIU Student Lincoln Laureate, an honor reserved for the university’s top senior.
The Student Lincoln Laureate is an annual honor reserved for the top senior from each of the state’s public and private four-year colleges and universities. Recognizing excellence in both curricular and extracurricular activities, the awards will be presented during the annual Student Laureate Convocation on Saturday, Nov. 5, at the historic Old State Capitol in Springfield.
Lindvall came to NIU as a non-traditional student. Following high school, she had taken time off from her studies to pursue her passions for travel (she’s been to 19 countries) and horseback riding. The latter has come with its setbacks; Lindvall has twice broken her back in falls, though she came back to win second place in a statewide equitation competition in 2009.
She picked up her academic career at Waubonsee Community College, where she earned an associate’s degree while simultaneously beginning her studies at NIU.
“As a non-traditional student who transferred to NIU from a community college, Nora represents very well the value that our institution can provide to all our students, if they are willing, as Nora is, to reach out and challenge themselves,” says Deborah Pierce, associate provost for International Programs at NIU. “As she told me recently, she has made NIU her own personal Harvard.”
Lindvall credits her strong work ethic to her mother, Linda Lencioni, a single parent who ran her own business—Arlou Liquors in Geneva. Linda died in 2007.
“My mom made a lot of sacrifices during her life, caring for family members and retiring early from business to care for my grandmother and uncle. That really inspired me, and I’ve tried to follow in her footsteps,” Lindvall says.
She has since honored her mother’s memory in countless ways. Among Lindvall’s many activities and achievements:
- She founded and serves as president of the NIU Student Advisory Council on Learning Outcomes, believed to be one of the few student organizations of its kind nationwide.
- She participated in NIU’s Oxford Study Abroad Program.
- She has studied French in Paris, German in Munich and Swedish in Gothenburg, as well as Italian. She currently is studying Dutch.
- In addition to being a decorated equestrian, she is also a triathlete.
- Having worked as a child actor in both film and commercials, she used her earnings to purchase her first horse. Throughout her college career, she has continued to run her own business, selling and leasing hunter-jumper horses.
- While working on an independent research project on the far-right political party known as the Swedish Democrats, she applied for and won two competitive NIU grants enabling her to collect data in Sweden. She also is conducting research on the lack of a coalition government in Belgium.
Lindvall recently applied for a Fulbright Scholarship, which she hopes will usher in the next chapter of her life.
The Fulbright Student Program offers fellowships for graduating college seniors to study abroad, and Lindvall has her sights set on the University of Amsterdam. There she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in a special program focusing on conflict resolution and governance.
Longterm, Lindvall says, she wants to earn a Ph.D. or law degree and work in international human rights, an area that piqued her interest when she traveled to South Africa as a teenager.
“I was shocked to see the conditions post-apartheid,” Lindvall says. “The amount of poverty and injustice I saw was really disheartening, and I want to do something to make a difference.”
It’s not much of a stretch to believe she will do just that.
In winning NIU’s Student Lincoln Laureate award, Lindvall was competing against top NIU seniors in a wide variety of disciplines. Other nominees for the award included first finalist Erin Fallis of Wadsworth (nursing) and finalist Evan Dutmer of St. Charles (philosophy), as well as nominees Teresa Bozikis of Park Ridge (speech language pathology-audiology), Jenna Hacker of Lake Zurich (Spanish language and literature), Meredith Haring of Elburn (Spanish language and literature), Brandon Makthepharaks of Elgin (French language and literature), April Parker of Rockford (international politics/French) and Jenner Sio of DeKalb (organizational management).